Friday, November 30, 2012

Caveat emptor

Back in the day when we were considering a career in law, we actually studied Latin; to School Certificate level even. And one phrase that has stuck with us is caveat emptor; translated literally it means let the buyer beware.

The sentiment behind the expression is the same today as it was in Roman days. Our Dear Departed Dad used to say that if something sounded too good to be true, it probably was. That too is a mindset that has stuck with us, which is why we've never invested money in a finance company!

But Stuff reports on a modern-day application of caveat emptor; check this out:

A Trade Me scammer who conned customers out of nearly $50,000 has been sentenced to nine months home detention.
Elmira Rafiee, 25, was charged with 57 dishonesty offences after selling cut-price iPhones and iPads that buyers never received.
She used websites Trade Me and Sella to contact her victims directly pretending to be selling products they were interested in.
Forty-five people fell for the scam and Rafiee pocketed $48,332, in part to fund a drug habit. The highest single amount paid was $1100 for an iPad.
When caught last year, Rafiee admitted the charges and was given time to raise the money to repay the complainants.
She came to Auckland District Court today able to pay $14,500, which her lawyer Mark Edgar said was "the accumulation of a lot of scrimping and scraping".
He proposed she pay $100 a week through a job at a beauty salon to take care of the balance, provided the judge allowed her a community-based sentence.
Rafiee was supported in court by family even though her lawyer said she had brought shame on them among the Iranian community.
Judge David Harvey remarked on the high level of premeditation which involved buying courier bags and providing tracking numbers to "the hapless purchasers".
And the victims were not limited to those who fell for the scam.
The credibility of the specific websites and the entire online marketplace was tarnished, he said.
Judge Harvey said the aggravating factors of computer fraud were often overlooked by the court.
"There's a level of dissociation between the offender and the victim," he said.
"With real world fraud it takes a certain level of grit because you've got to eyeball the victim."
Upon sentencing her to home detention, the judge said he hoped the six years of repayments would be a constant reminder of Rafiee's offending.
He also tacked on 200 hours of community work and banned her from the internet for the first six months of her sentence. 

Whilst there's no excuse for Elmira Rafiee's offending, TradeMe does bring the whole caveat emptor thing to life in a 21st century context. Whilst the vast majority of TradeMe traders are honest, there are some scumbags out there. But surely, checking a person's feedback and profile, even if they haven't traded much is the bare minimum that any buyer would do before handing over their hard-earned cash.

Judge Harvey is right on the money about the level of disassociation between victims and offenders in online fraud; it's a very impersonal crime. But those purchasing online should take some precautions, and have an understanding that the Deal of the Century may not be that at all.

As we said above, none of this excuses Rafiee's cynical, premediated offending. But as long as they are people who will take the bait, fraudsters such as her will continue to propser. All we can say to that is caveat emptor; let the buyer beware.

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